Patty in the News

Financial literacy is a sound investment

Apr 10 2009

Washington Sen. Patty Murray chose Foster High School in Tukwila to announce her new legislation to promote financial literacy. Faculty and students are leading the way with programs to make the next generation better savers, investors and consumers.

FACULTY and students at Foster High School in Tukwila are trendsetters in a subject that is gaining interest and paying dividends. In the midst of the current economic crisis, financial education is like money in the bank.

Overdrawn puns aside, Washington Sen. Patty Murray picked Foster to announce her legislation to promote financial literacy. The school is on the leading edge of efforts to fill in the woeful and expensive information gaps exposed by the housing bubble and credit crunch.

Consumer debt has swamped household budgets, Americans have little or no savings and they are struggling to keep their heads above water with mortgages they barely understood when they signed the paperwork.

Murray's Financial and Economic Literacy Improvement Act of 2009 is an ambitious effort to teach the next generation — and their elders — how to better manage their finances. The legislation seeks to promote age-appropriate courses and activities for two levels of students: K-12 and in two- and four-year colleges. States would apply for grants totaling $250 million a year for five years.

The dollar amounts sound high at first glance, but the expense of financial ignorance for individuals, communities and the nation makes the investment a pittance by comparison.

Senate co-sponsors include Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who points to the Mississippi Council on Economic Education as another model for financial literacy. Available classes have names such as Financial Fitness for Life, which provide the kind of foundation that can serve a person for a lifetime. Other courses blend economics and mathematics.

Saving and investing are habits to be nurtured and promoted — even the apparently radical notion of not making purchases until the money is in hand. The other fundamental lesson is the money to be saved by being a better-informed consumer of credit cards, health, life and auto insurance, mortgages and student, car and consumer loans.

Financial literacy is a lot like defensive driving. Skeptical, aware consumers can be taught, or they can be educated through the vastly more expensive school of hard knocks.

Foster High School in Tukwila is leading by good example.

- The Seattle Times